How — and Why — to Do a Temporary Job Extremely Well

When Janet asked me for part-time work, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, I knew based on my previous experience with her that she would be helpful. She had been relentless at getting her work done, even if it meant rattling some cages. On the other hand, I was worried that she might be difficult to work with. Her virtue of relentlessness is, as all virtues are, a two-sided coin. She had spare hours on weekends that she wanted to fill, and she could think of no better way to spend them than by working for me. I couldn’t say “no.” She knew it, and so did I. I began with a simple assignment — to find me a doctor.

In a five-minute conversation conducted through an intermediary, I conveyed the basic information: that I was in chronic and acute pain, that I wanted a top back specialist to operate on me, that I wanted it done soon, and that I wanted her to help me decide whether I needed an orthopedic surgeon as well as a neurosurgeon. Janet understood the most important part of my request immediately — that I wanted a top guy. She must have started working on it the very night I gave her the assignment.

By the following Monday, less than a week later, I had preliminary recommendations on my desk. She had already created a short list of possible candidates and assembled information about what experience and education they had, what kind of surgery they did, and how many operations per week they conducted. It was enough to narrow my choices almost immediately.

In the one-page cover letter that accompanied her short list, she indicated the work that she had done — including double-checking data and calling for references. She added that she’d continue researching other options and that a final result with specific recommendations (probably two or three) would arrive by a certain date. I have no doubt this is exactly what will happen. If you want to impress a new boss (or set guidelines for a new employee), why not use Janet’s example to identify what would characterize a really good job?

1. Start with a manageable job. There is no better way for you to ingratiate yourself with your boss or anybody you want to work for than to take on an important, temporary task and complete it superbly. Longer projects have a way of getting bogged down and troubled, even if you give them your best intentions. But shorter-term deals are perfect for showing what you can do if conditions are perfect.

2. Understand the primary goal. Take the time to find out what your boss/client really wants. Don’t assume you understand his objectives. Talk to him and make him confirm that your understanding of his goals and desires is accurate.

3. Set deadlines and get to work immediately. Janet did this and it impressed the heck out of me. When setting deadlines, give yourself a little leeway by giving yourself earlier dates than the ones you promise.

4. Keep your boss informed of your progress, but do so briefly and without fanfaronade. The purpose of your communications should be to inform, not seek praise.

5. Be thorough. You don’t want to blow an otherwise great job by missing a detail. Get someone to double-check your work for you. Don’t be afraid to have the boss look over anything you do before putting it into play.

6. If possible, do something important well and early — before he expects it to be done. This way, you get him to think of you as a “can-do” person.